.All Trips / British Columbia / North America / Western Canada

Yoho National Park — Emerald Lake


Yoho seems a bit of an odd name, but it’s very appropriate to apply it to this region.  To the Cree people Yoho meant “Awe and Wonder”.  You’ll find that impression remains today when you visit this region, within which Emerald Lake stands out as one remarkable destination.  It’s one of the great scenic treasures of the Canadian Rockies, rivaling the beauty of Lake Louise or Moraine Lake.   Situated about an hour and a half drive from Banff, Emerald Lake offers memorable scenes of greenish water against a stunning backdrop of forested mountains, jagged peaks and glaciers.  When the light hits the water at the right angle, you’ll see where the lake gets its name — it’s green but a different greenish color than the turquoise waters you’ll see at Lake Louise or Peyto Lake (though also due to glacial silt affecting sunlight disbursement).

Emerald Lake is situated near Field, British Columbia.  It’s just a few minutes drive north of the Trans-Canada Highway so access is easy.  The lake offers an extremely flat and well kept trail that’s easy to hike, which is good because your eyes will constantly want to stray from the trail to take in all that gorgeous scenery.  It’s just under 6 kms (about 3.5 miles) in length and even if one walks slowly and takes lots of photos, it could easily be completed in two hours.  The walk takes you through an active avalanche path (you’ll see how every year the snow plows down all growth), through pine, hemlock and cedar forests with lots of wildflowers (Yellow Glacier Lilies and Calypso Orchids were blooming when I visited).  The thickly forested eastern portion of the trail was still covered with a bit of ice and snow, requiring more attention, but this did not distract from a lovely experience.  The trail offers several branch points that allow access to higher altitude lakes, glaciers and mountain passes.

The entire Canadian Rockies are considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, but UNESCO has separately recognized an elevated ridge near Emerald Lake as one of the world’s most significant fossil deposits. The Burgess Shale Formation offers among the largest density and variety of the finest marine fossils anywhere (and as such Parks Canada has placed the region “off limits” to casual tourists to preserve its integrity). You can easily see this location of the fossilized sea-life from the west shore of the lake, sitting high on a ridge some 1000 meters above you….Sea-life fossils touching the clouds…..The irony doesn’t elude me….

Mt Burgess, home of the Burgess shale

At the end of your hike your hike you’ll pass Emerald Lake Lodge, an attractive complex of buildings with terrific lake and mountain views (which I need to keep in mind for a nice weekend getaway).  There’s a concession stand where you can buy a coffee or ice cream and sit at the lakeside and just enjoy the view.  Or if you still have more energy you can rent a canoe or rowboat and do the loop again, this time on the water.  There are busloads of tourists who do little more than stop at the south shore of the lake, visit the gift shop, take a few photos and leave. They’re really missing a lot but I guess a ten minute visit is better than none.

The fishing season had not yet opened but I understand this can be a good trout lake.  You can swim in the lake if you want but it’s always COLD and certainly not for the faint of heart.  The spot is popular in the winter as a venue for snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing, though beware of the avalanche risk if you come.

While in the area, be sure to stop at the rather unusually shaped Natural Bridge, sculpted and undermined by the Kicking Horse River.  Also, stop and take a look at the many switch tunnels, deeply carved into to the mountains to allow a more controlled descent and ascent of Rogers pass by trains.

Well worth a day!  I think I’ll head back this fall to enjoy the scenery in its fall canopy.

(Click on thumbnail to enlarge, then right arrow to advance slideshow)

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